Sigma SD1 Review

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by graham john miles, Jul 18, 2011.

  1. Luminous Landscapes incisive review on the Sigma SD1 offers interesting thoughts on what gives Foveon images that extra little sparkle that seems to set them apart from others.
    This is one of the few, if any, independant reviews I have read that acknowledges there is something dimensional about their presentation. The reviewer believes it to be in the micro-detail that the sensor is able to capture without the anti-aliasing filter. Since there is no danger of moire in a foveon sensor, the filter is not needed, hence extra fine detail is captured. I have also noticed this quality with a few other manufacturers, notably Olympus who reportedly use a weaker filter than most, and also the higher end Canon models which produce images with a tack like sharpness that makes me wonder if they are also following this route. Ultimately, it leads me to speculate that it would be an interesting option for a manufacturer to offer a removable filter or leave it off altogether. I know there are third party companies out their offering this service, but as a factory option it would be something I would personally consider when looking at a purchase.
  2. The danger of leaving the filter off is that you can very easily get color moire in the image. That's why more camera makers do not do this... not that in the LL review even though the Leica M9 shot looked pretty good (it has no AA filter) you only saw a small crop at 100%.
    It also does not solve the main problem that Foveon cameras address, the difference in resolution with color content vs. b&w content. Again in that B&W crop the M9 looked perfectly sharp, because all the detail was totally B&W. But if the crop extended into the flowers you'd see much less detail being held, AA or no - because in strong pure color content, you are not making use of many of the photosites to capture detail.
    One other thing of note is that the warm colors he recorded are a think due to a bug currently in Sigma's SPP software, the review stated he output images as ProPhotoRGB from SPP - but currently there is a pretty serious bug in the Mac version where only AppleRGB images look correct when output from the processing software.
    For those that have a subscription, there is also an SD-1 review up on Sean Reid's site:
  3. The review from lumious lanscape isn't very positive about the SD-1. A good camera but certainly not for the money.
  4. Another sigma camera with great IQ but nothing else good...seems DP1 deja vu, no?
  5. Another sigma camera with great IQ but nothing else good...seems DP1 deja vu, no?​
    It has some other good qualities (weather sealing, great shutter) but in the end - all that remains after you push the shutter is the image. That's always been the draw of the Sigma cameras, that in return for some controls or body elements not being quite as nice as Canon or Nikon, you get images that can often amaze you.
    In 20 years who will care how many FPS your camera got or what the resolution of the rear screen is? All you will have left is the image.
  6. Well, are absolutely right *if* one shoot landscape or other non moving subjects. Furthermore, if that's the case, why not shoot medium format or even, say, a 4x5 camera?
    However, if you shoot street, PJ or most other type of photography involves moving, timely subject shooting...the sigma really suck butt.
    Ever hear...Ohh mind! Look at that DR on the Paris Hilton shot! Or, say, you could really blow up that to 40x60 because the sigma has no AA filter. That would make that awful portrait much better...IQ doesn't matter in many type of photography in the real world:)
  7. Okay, let me rephrase and be more clear a bit. The IQ is secondary to getting the shot. Some shots are really difficult to catch with the sigma due to it's other weaknesses. Similarly, if you got the shot, it doesn't matter if it's from your Iphone or a D3X. In some photography, that is...
  8. In 20 years who will care how many FPS your camera got or what the resolution of the rear screen is? All you will have left is the image
    while I agree with you on this. And yes leslie, some images are great just being capture even with poor quality.
    But on the image quality front alone. It doesn't seem the SD-1 is better than the Nikon D3x, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, or even the Sony A-900 and yes the SD-1 is more expensive than all of the above cameras.
  9. @buBu; From the Luminous review I read, it seems as though the images are better than the cameras you listed. Look at the samples. When other reviews come out look at other comparison photos.
    @Lesilie: The Sigma cameras work great as street cameras if you use them fully manually - with manual focus and exposure there is zero delay. With the more modern DP cameras they have improved AF to the point it may reusable for street photography.
    I agree there are some areas where the SD-1 will not be as well suited to getting the shot. But what if you are mostly interested in landscape work? Then the camera is an excellent tool. Yes you can use MF or 4x5 too, but those are REALLY heavy to cart around and not everyone has a dedicated photographic Llama like John Fielder.
    I also agree with everyone here that the camera is generally too expensive as it is, most people simply will not be able to afford one. But over time the price may come down and it's for that time I raise the consideration to think about the final image you are getting rather than just about bells and whistles.
  10. Die-hard Sigma fans with enough money to buy the 120-300 f2.8 will buy the SD1. They probably don't care about anyone else, because all the others don't really represent much profit anyway. Seriously, 80% of the profit comes from 20% of the customer. SD1 captures is THE best image quality available in the conventional style DSLR marketplace right now. And without adding lots of weight to your kit, you can't get a camera that will capture the image quality of the SD1 and a couple of Sigma lenses - PERIOD.
    The Sigma SD1 makes a LOT of sense for people going to Africa to shoot. Buy a couple of Sigma bodies and a couple of Sigma lenses (120-300 f2.8 and 300-800), and you have a long-range kit capable of shooting stuff that no other kit with anywhere near the same weight can capture. Yes, you will have to switch cameras constantly, because the SD1 does not write those huge files fast, and yes, you will have to get a couple of new 32 GB cards for those huge 45 MB files, but if you compare a Nikon system to the Sigma system here is the way it looks:
    2 Nikon D3x bodies (2 x $8,000 each = $16,000), with a 70-200 f2.8 VR ($2,400) and a 200-400 f4 VR ($5,000) and a 600 f4 ($10,000) for a grand total of $33,400 ($16,000 + $2,400 + $5,000 + $10,000)
    2 Sigma SD1 bodies (2 x $7,000 each = $14,000), with a 70-200 f2.8 ($1,700) and a 120-300 f2.8 OS ($2,200) and a 300-800 ($8,000) for a grand total of $25,900 ($14,000 + $1,700 + $2,200 + $8,000)
    Keep in mind that the long Sigma lens is an f5.6 lens, instead of an f4 lens and it weighs in at 12.91 lb (5.86kg), and the Nikon 600 f4 is a little brighter and weighs in at11.13 lb (5.05kg). If this was all there was to it, then the Nikon kit might be comparable, but the Sigma is a 1.5 crop factor body, effectively making it superior for long range photography, while the SD1 body is lighter than the D3x body and produces images with superior detail, so if the lenses are shot at comparable f-stops (such as f8 or f11) there is likely to be an a serious advantage in the hands of the Sigma shooter.
    The African photo safari shooter and the World traveling National Geographic shooter is the domain of the Sigma SD1. And it will do very well in that world of eccentric photographers. Already it is the weird and extreme photographers who the SD14 and SD15 appeal to, and it will be the few wealthy or successful photographers in this group who will buy most of the Sigma SD1 bodies that go on the market this year. Sure, there will be the would-be Leica S2 buyer, who feels the Sigma SD1 is a good compromise, because they don't have to dish out another $5,000 for each lens and there are long lenses available. Some wealthy and even not-so-wealthy people will buy a Sigma SD1 for when they take that $30,000 trip of a lifetime, and sell it when they get back. That makes sense, when you think about it . . . for serious amateur photographers, who maybe own a Nikon D300, with a couple of lenses, like a 16-85mm VR and a 70-200 f2.8 VR. Why NOT spend (temporarily) $9,000 or $10,000 (instead of $5,000 for a 200-400 f4 VR), and then sell the equipment that really is not quite affordable, for $2,000 or $3,000 loss, upon their return from the big trip? Yes, it costs a little more (about $2,000 more or if they would keep the Nikon 200-400 lens, there is actually a savings), but they will have significantly better RAW images from that big trip for the years to come (for the rest of time, actually). It's the same reason people hire a wedding photographer for $5,000 instead of $2,000.
    There's one more thing . . . Sigma may just be getting ramped up. Who knows what is to come, and Nikon and Canon seem like they are slowing down. Even Sony seems to be stagnating at the top end. Why? Sigma is pushing the envelope. The Nikon D3x and even the D700 have been on the shelf FOREVER! Sigma has found a way to beat them, and the sigma body is actually cheaper and lighter than the Nikon body that gives an inferior image!
    How can people not see the HUGE advantage the Sigma SD1 provides?
    Do I think Sigma did themselves a disservice by talking about the SD1 as a camera that would sell for the same price range as a Canon 7 D? ABSOLUTELY! Do I think it SUCKS that I can't afford an SD1? DEFINITELY. But do I think the SD1 sucks, because it is expensive? NO. It's an AMAZING camera that is priced where it should be. If it was cheaper it would be under-priced. Yes, I hope people don't buy it, so Sigma is forced to lower the price to $3,000 (then at least I may be able to raise the money to get one), but I don't see Sigma needing to do that. People will realize what the SD1 is . . . eventually.
  11. I have one more thing to add - on the Sigma SD1 site, there is an "External Views" page with photos of the top, sides, front, back, and bottom of the camera. In the first photo there are six items listed. Number two is Lena Mount and number five is Lens Mount. If I were to assume, I would guess this is a mistake, and that the "Lena Mount" item should just be deleted, and the numbers changed, because I believe there is no such thing as a "Lena Mount" - number 2 points to a place near the lens mount, but there really isn't anything at that position.
    If this is the detail we can expect from Sigma in this camera, there must be quite a few software glitches in the camera. I wonder where else there are problems. Come on Sigma! It's item NUMBER TWO! For Christ's sake! I could understand if you had such a problem at item number 8 on image three, but it is RIGHT UP FRONT! (item 2 on the first image!)
    Well, we'll see what the reviewers tell us over time. Hopefully the price will drop gradually, and we'll see a sale on a package that includes a 17-50 f2.8 EX DC OS HSM for $4,995 before too long. Then I can get that baby, an 8-16mm f4.5-5.6 DC HSM, a 70mm f2.8 EX DG Macro, an 85 f1.4 EX, and a 120-300 f2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM. My main issue is which of those almost identical 120-300mm lenses I should buy. I guess the cheaper one. (Do you think there are enough acronyms in Sigma lens names?)
  12. O.K., so I looked around and found there are a bunch of RAW images available to download (from various people's SD-1 cameras). I downloaded a couple and looked at them in SIGMA Photo Pro (a free download). The program seems to lack basics, such as the ability to straighten and crop (it does flip right and left, so you can take a shot that is landscape and make it portrait). I decided to make a comparison of a photo I shot recently with my Sony R-1 against a shot from the Sigma SD-1. Take a look at these two photos:
    They are downloadable, so you can look at them in detail.
    O.K. So did you go look at them? Go ahead, because you should not read past this until you have done that. Download them and pixel-peep!
    Go on!
    Now, if you did that, you can read the rest of this, because I am going to tell you a secret that you should not know until you have looked closely at those photos. The second image (with the man on the bench) is actually a severe crop. That's why it looks like it was shot with a shift lens (PC or tilt-shift). I exported the RAW in double size (you have three options - half size, full size, or double size) to JPEG. Then I took the image into Preview (a little image viewing program on the Mac), adjusted the color temperature a little, and then I cropped it. Then, after saving it as a JPEG again, I took that into Photoshop and edited it with layers (erasing portions of the top copy, which I had edited for saturation and hue, to make the image look cooler and greener, especially in the bright distant areas. Then I converted it from Adobe1998 color to sRGB color and saved at 72 dpi, with a little more compression. The Sony makes the files at 72 dpi right out of the camera. I did convert the Sony file to sRGB from Adobe1998 though, and when I saved that file I set the compression level a little stronger too. The Sony file is about twice the size of the other file, because of the complexity of the image (lots of lines and even more in-focus leaves).
    Take a look at the original file from the SD-1 (warning - it's a big JPEG file):
    Of course, that's not the "original" image, because the original was RAW, and the JPEG that I exported from SIGMA Photo Pro was actually in Adobe1998 color and too big for my Zenfolio account image data-size limits, so I took that JPEG into Photoshop and changed it to sRGB, and then I saved it will a little more compression, so it would be slightly less than 24 MB. Still, for a JPEG it's pretty big!
    One thing that strikes me about the original photo is the lack of noise, when the camera has been set on ISO 200. I'll have to look for some ISO 400 and ISO 800 shots from the SD-1. For an APS-C sensor, the SD-1 seems to produce very little noise - less than my 12 megapixel Nikon D5000 would produce. I'll have to compare it to a Canon 7 D and a Nikon D7000. Of course, to compare it against a Nikon D3x would be the best comparison, since it is basically a competitor to that camera (both in price and image quality). For me, the fact that the Sigma SD-1 is less expensive with a 24-70mm f2.8 EX lens than a Nikon D3x body makes me think it might be a viable alternative to the Nikon, especially considering its long range shooting potential for bird and sports shooters who are considering the D3x, because they want better quality and don't need as much speed as the D3s provides.
  13. Here's another gallery of images - it is from Carl Rytterfalk's latest RAW pack:
    I converted them in SIGMA Photo Pro. I used the "double size" option, when making the JPEG images, and I batch processed them all with the same settings I used for the Yak photo. I set the compression level to 10 (which I think works about the same as 10 in Photoshop), and I set color space to sRGB, for best viewing on your computer. What I am most impressed with is the lack of noise I see in the images, which seem to have all been shot at ISO 200. (all except the raging water, which was shot at ISO 100)
    Feel free to use the slide show feature to see them full screen, but the best way to look at these huge images is by down-loading them. They are pretty big (about 10 to 15 megabytes each), and Zenfolio doesn't have a display setting bigger than 1550 X 960. I wish they had a loupe feature, for viewing image detail.
  14. There's something I don't understand. Why does Sigma claim 46 megapixel all over the place, yet the actual resolution of the sample images on their site and raw images that I've downloaded all end up at 44.3 megapixels? (4704 x 3136 x 3)
    See these JPEG samples at the SD1 site:
    (They apparently combine the 3 layered "pixels" to make the JPEG images.)
  15. According to Carl at, there is a new firmware update for the SD1, which improves it somewhat. I thought its images already looked GREAT!
    There is also a new version of SIGMA Photo Pro available at the Sigma SD1 site:
    It is, of course, available for Windows AND Mac.
  16. I've been using an SD1 for about a month now, and there are a couple of points that are hinted at by the above discussions, that are worth mentioning:

    1. The SD1, like previous Sigma cameras, is not an ideal all-purpose workaday professional camera. The sluggishness (which evinces itself in many ways) and many other drawbacks guarantee that. As the flagship in the Foveon line (and now a much more realistic value at a price recently under $2K), it's a grand experiment and fine luxury for those who are able to use more than one pro camera. It can be superb in particular for landscapes and cityscapes, still lifes, and formal portraits that do not require the response necessary for fast-paced studio fashion work. As such the IQ, when everything goes right, competes at this point remarkably well as compared to, for example, my Canon 5D Mark II and similar cameras, revealing detail greater than those though not quite at the level of the big $ medium format cameras. And then of course there is the tangible you-are-there quality of Foveon cameras that some people seem to experience more than others.

    2. Based on the very lengthy and typically thorough and intelligent dpreview results, most people are in fact finding that the SD1 operates best at ISO 200, not 100. There is more highlight headroom, and less noise, at 200, a welcome surprise. For the landscape shooter, this is a great pleasure after all those years of Velvia 50 and then 100. Also a very usable ISO for street and general handheld use.

    The whole discussion pro and con about Sigma cameras can become somewhat heated, and for those inclined to be technical, quite complex. Certainly SPP has come a long way, but it's a shame it's the only game in town for SD1 raw images as of this writing. If SD1 devotees are a cult, count me in, but only because it's such a pleasure to go back and forth between Sigma and Canon systems, and get the best of both worlds, which is what from personal experience (using multiple bodies in both systems) I would recommend.

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